19 Jun 2013
Chinese tech powerhouse Huawei has been trying to conquer the Western smartphone market for some time, and has been releasing a host of ultra-affordable Android handsets for close to a decade now. However it's only in the last few years the company has dared to compete in the top-end Apple and Samsung-dominated market, releasing it's D and P series of stylish and powerful Android smartphones.
Yet despite featuring some top-end tech and undercutting the cost of their more expensive Korean and American competitors, the devices have so far failed to fully woo British buyers. But now Huawei has announced a fresh assault on the top-end space, unveiling its latest Ascend P6 handset.
Design and build
Huawei made a big fuss about the Ascend P6's design, building it to be the thinnest smartphone in the world, measuring in at an anorexic 133x66x6.18mm and weighing a modest 120g. Despite its modest measurements the P6 does feel fairly solid. This is thanks largely to its predominantly aluminium chassis, which, despite feeling light in hand, offered no give under pressure. We think the device could survive the odd accidental bump and scrape.
The Ascend P6 looks fairly similar to the iPhone 5, boasting close to identical rectangular design and metal rimming around its sides. In fact if you didn't turn the P6 around and look at the Huawei logo and brushed metal finish on its back, you could easily be forgiven for thinking the device was designed by Apple's Jonathan Ive.
Within the tiny chassis of the P6 sits a reasonably sized 4.7in 720p, 312ppi HD touchscreen. While not as pixel-packed as the Samsung Galaxy S4's 5in full HD super Amoled 1920x1080, 441ppi display, we were reasonably impressed with the P6's screen. Testing it on the bright showroom floor the display proved to be fairly glare resistant and constantly appeared crisp and vibrant, even when viewed at an awkward angle.
The Huawei Ascend P6 comes loaded with Google's Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean operating system. While it's good to see the P6 running the latest version of Android it's important to note Huawei's heavily customised the OS, overlaying it with its custom Emotion user interface.
The use of Emotion means that the P6 user interface is very different to those seen on most Android smartphones, featuring a host of redesigned application icons and custom Huawei widgets. The most noticeable of these is the P6's Me Widget. The widget is designed to use data stored on the phone to collate services and applications often used, and push them to the front of the UI.
While we didn't get a chance to fully take a look at Emotion during our brief time with the P6, we did find ourselves occasionally getting frustrated with the slew of changes that have been made. Even seasoned Android users could struggle to find the setting or menu they want.
The P6 runs using Huawei's 1.5GHz quad core K3V2+ processor and boasts 2GB RAM. Huawei claims the processor is one of the fastest mobile chips ever made and will offer users unprecedented 4G speeds when the LTE version is released in the UK in October. The 3G model we were using was still fairly fast, being able to run pre-installed games applications, such as Fruit Ninja, hassle free and generally navigating menus smoothly.
Sadly the unit wasn't connected to the showroom floor WiFi and didn't have an active data connection, meaning we didn't get to test it online, or download a benchmarking tool to properly check the P6's speed.
Huawei loaded the P6 with an 8MP camera it claims will be able to top the S4's 13MP unit using the company's Imagesmart Engine technology. While the details of how the photo-enhancing technology works remain vague, the few test shots we took on the showroom floor looked reasonable as regards colour balance and brightness. We're really looking forward to putting the camera through some more thorough tests in our full review.
The P6 also features a 5MP front camera, which proved vastly superior to the VGA and 2MP front snappers seen on most competing Android smartphones.
Set to cost a modest £329 in the UK, while the phone doesn't feel terribly original our first impressions of the Huawei Ascend P6 are positive. The device features a nice-looking, albeit Apple-like, design and contains some pretty impressive technical specifications you'd only expect to see in a much more expensive device.
The Huawei Ascend P6 is set to launch in Europe in July, check back with V3 then for a full review, or click on our video demo below to see the phone in action.
Written by V3's Alastair Stevenson
The second major theme to Apple's Worldwide developer conference (WWDC) was an update to its OS X platform for Mac computers, dubbed OS X Mavericks, plus a refresh of its portable and desktop systems.
Apple's update to its OS X laptop and desktop OS is business and productivity focused, with the most notable change being an update to its the Finder platform. The update promised to let users do things like add tags to files to help make it easier to find them using search and automatically organise them - a boon for any small business still storing their files on premise. Other changes are similarly low key, with highlights including OpenGL 4 support and the addition of timer coalescing - a feature that promises to help the computer manage CPU activity thus reducing power usage.
Macbook Air and Mac Pro updates
Alongside its software innovations Apple also treated fans to some tech upgrades during its WWDC keynote, confirming new versions of its popular Macbook Air laptops as well as teasing a new version of its Mac Pro, top-end computer.
The Macbook Air models are a fairly modest affair, with the biggest change being the addition of Intel's new Haswell chips to the new 11.6in and 13.3in models. While the addition is set to boost performance and improve battery life, it's still not that exciting as every PC maker in the world is also planning on using them.
For this reason, we're more interested in the teased information about Apple's next Mac Pro. Currently all that's known is that it is set to be powered by an Intel Xeon processor and boast improved memory. It will also include Thunderbolt 2 connectivity to help users more quickly transfer files, as well as support for 4K displays and dual workstation GPUs for increased graphics and number crunching performance.
Apple watchers may be disappointed the firm has not done anything radically different, but given its current success, the company really doesn't have to. This is especially true in the laptop and PC markets with the lukewarm response given to the platform's chief rival, Microsoft Windows 8.
Written by V3's Alastair Stevenson
11 Jun 2013
Apple's Worldwide developer's conference (WWDC) comes during an interesting time for the iPhone maker. Despite posting impressive revenues and shifting record numbers of close to all of its products, numerous Apple naysayers have begun attacking the firm.
These critics claim since the death of co-founder Steve Jobs, Apple's running out of ideas and is soon going to lose its place in the sun, as competitors, like Korean firm Samsung take advantage of its lull in creativity. Yet, with WWDC officially underway, Apple's proven unperturbed by the doomsayers and has opted to unveil a host of upgrades to existing products, starting with iOS on the iPhone.
While consumers will undoubtedly be focused on things like iTunes radio - a feature that really doesn't offer much to improve itself past older services seen on competing platforms, like Nokia Music - there are still several notable updates on iOS 7 for enterprise and business users.
Most noticeably, iOS 7 will feature an overhauled interface designed to improve the efficiency and user experience. Chief among the UI changes is the addition of a main control centre management screen and a dynamic wallpaper system. This is big news as it is the first serious upgrade Apple's made to the UI in sometime. We're curious to see how Apple users react to the change.
Beyond this, Apple's continued its push to make Siri actually useful, loading it with new voice options and the ability to search Wikipedia, Twitter and Bing. The firm's also confirmed it is working with car makers to develop an in-vehicle console which can be navigated entirely by voice.
Last but not least, Apple's also continued its ongoing push to increase integration levels between its mobile iOS and computer Mac operating systems, adding a Keychain tool to its iCloud platform. The Keychain tool is an account management system able to remember passwords and credit card information and sync it with a user's OS X Mavericks system.
While iOS 7 may not be as exciting as an iWatch or Apple-vision visor, it shows there is still plenty to interest Apple watchers at this year's WWDC.
Written by V3's Alastair Stevenson
06 Jun 2013
Sony boldly entered the ultrabook market last year, releasing its moderately priced Vaio T13. A solid entry into the ultrabook space, the T13 received generally positive reviews but failed to reignite corporate interest in Sony laptops, contributing to yet another lull in sales for the Japanese giant. Not willing to give up, Sony's retargeted the space, unveiling its top end Pro 13, claiming the device is the lightest touchscreen ultrabook ever made.
Design and build
Visually, as is the case with most Sony devices, the Pro is very slick. The model we had some time with featured a brushed black finish, that combined with its hardline, slim dimensions and design gave it a very swish, corporate feel similar to that seen on Lenovo's X1 Carbon ultrabook. The Pro 13 was also very light for its size, measuring in at 322x216x17.2mm and weighing just 1.06kg, similar to the 1.08kg MacBook Air. The low weight is seriously impressive considering some of the hardcore components and ports housed in the Pro's carbon fibre chassis, with it boasting USB 3.0, USB 3.0 with charge, SD memory card, HDMI out, Bluetooth, NFC and WiFi connectivity options. Opening impressions also suggest the Pro is fairly well built, with it having as solid feel that left us sure it could survive a few odd bumps and scrapes.
Display-wise the Pro 13 comes with a 13.3in Full HD 1920x1080 Triluminos touchscreen. As we found on the similarly specced Vaio Duo 13 Sony convertible, the display is pleasant to use when viewed directly, but suffered from glare issues, regularly catching any stray light and featured surprisingly poor viewing angles, quickly becoming illegible when viewed at even a slight angle. However, to be fair to the Pro 13, the lighting conditions on the press-expo floor were particularly punishing, being strewn with ridiculously bright lights that made every device we had at hand difficult to use.
Operating system and software
The Pro 13 will be released with Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro options. Windows 8 is yet to massively take off in the corporate space with many firms preferring to avoid the costly experience of a general upgrade and sticking to their older Windows 7, Vista or even XP systems. Our experience using Windows 8 on the Pro 13 was positive, with its nippy, responsive touchscreen making it a doddle to navigate, a fact aided by the fact Sony hasn't overloaded the device with too many custom applications.
In terms of power, the out of the box Pro 13 will feature an Intel Core i7-4500U with Turbo boost Technology, that will be backed up by 8GB of RAM and a hybrid solid state drive. While we didn't get a chance to properly put the Pro 13 though its paces or benchmark it, the on-paper specs mean it should be more than powerful enough for most business purposes and during our hands on we didn't notice any software bugs or glitches hampering its performance.
Our opening tests suggest the Pro 13 is a decent ultrabook, offering business users a solidly built, yet surprisingly light power-house Windows 8 experience. However, there's currently no word on how much the Pro 13 will cost when it's released later this month, meaning it's difficult to tell how much businesses will have to pay for the premium experience. Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Sony Vaio Pro 13.
By Alastair Stevenson. Follow him on Twitter: @MonkeyGuru
05 Jun 2013
Sony entered the convertible device space in 2012 with the launch of its Duo 11 Windows 8 tablet-come-laptop. While the original Duo did have some positive points, offering decent performance and a reasonable screen, it was let down by a few niggling issues. Chief among these were its poor five-hour battery life and delicate feeling hinge.
Clearly aware of this, Sony has moved to address these problems with its follow-up model, the Duo 13, radically redesigning the hinge mechanism and loading it with a more robust battery that it claims will last at least one day's use off of one charge.
Design and build
Unlike most convertibles, the Duo 13 isn't a dockable tablet. Instead users can turn the device into a laptop by sliding out an actual physical keyboard. This means that the Duo is significantly larger and heavier than most other Windows 8 tablets, measuring in at 330x210x19.5mm and weighing 1.35kg. The Microsoft Surface Pro by comparison measures in at 275x173x13mm and weighs 907g, although this doesn't a keyboard.
While Sony's promised the hinge is far more robust than the one seen on the Duo 11 - the firm went so far as to show us videos of engineers dropping it on the floor to prove its point - during our hands on we found the hinge still felt a little rickety with it shaking and bending whenever we slid out the keyboard. Our concerns were compounded when Sony declined our request to try the drop test we saw in the video.
Outside of this though the build quality was good, with the keyboard feeling significantly larger than the slightly squished one seen on the Duo 11 and featuring a small track pad at its bottom - something the original Duo didn't.
The Pro comes loaded with a 13.3in 1920x1080 Triluminos touch screen. While this is nowhere near as good as the displays seen on most top-end Android and iOS tablets, like the 9.7in Retina LED-backlit widescreen display, 2048x1536 pixels seen on Apple's latest iPad, it is on a par with most other Windows 8 tablets. During our tests when viewing directly we found the screen was reasonable, having fairly vibrant colours. It did suffer some glare issues and didn't boast great viewing angles - however this could be down to the very bright lighting conditions on the press-expo floor.
The Duo 13 is available in Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro options. This is great as Windows 8 is far superior to Microsoft's tablet-focused RT operating system, featuring legacy application support. This means Windows 8 is compatible with applications for older versions of Windows and makes it far easier to integrate into an office environment.
We also noticed a few nice software additions designed to help users get the most out of the Duo 13's attached active stylus, with it letting you do things like set an application to automatically open when the stylus is held close to the screen. Another nice service was the preinstalled CamScanner app. The app will suit business users, letting them use the rear 8MP camera to scan written documents to turn into text files. We didn't get a chance to test the feature during our hands on, but if it works this will definitely be a selling point for business users.
Sony claims the Duo 13 will offer users ultrabook-level performance, featuring an Intel Core i7 chip and 8GB of RAM. During our hands-on we didn't get a chance to properly benchmark the device or run any demanding applications on it. However, for general purposes we found it was quite fast, loading webpages instantly and navigating between menus seamlessly.
We also found that the stylus felt slightly more sensitive than others we've tested, with it picking up even the most rapid of movements and even minor changes in pressure. Come our full review we're really excited to see how the stylus and Duo perform when running hardcore graphics programmes.
Having had a go with Sony's Duo 13 we have to say our opening impressions are positive and our brief encounter with the convertible left us wanting more. However, with there being no current word on price it remains unclear how premium a price businesses will have to pay for the super powered device. The Duo is set for release later this year, make sure to check back with V3 then for our full review.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson. Follow him on Twitter @MonkeyGuru
05 Jun 2013
Windows Server 2012 R2 is a comprehensive refresh of Microsoft's server platform, with advances in storage, networking, Hyper-V and across the board, according to the firm.
However, some features stand out as "game changing", according to Jeff Woolsey, principal programme manager for Windows Server Virtualisation. These include storage tiering in software, and a multi-tenant gateway to support software defined networking (SDN) in cloud deployments.
Storage tiering is an update to the Storage Spaces feature of Windows Server 2012. It creates a pool of storage from a bunch of disks directly attached to the server, with thin provisioning and resiliency provided by the file system.
In the upcoming R2 release, customers can now tier that storage using a combination of SSD and spinning disks, delivering a dramatic boost in I/O performance.
"We're taking mainstream SSDs, applying them to hard disks, and giving you phenomenal performance," Woolsey told V3.
In a demo at the TechEd conference, Woolsey showed how server with just spinning disks achieved 7400 input/output operations per second (IOPS). The same task with four SSDs added for tiering delivered 124,000 IOPs – a 16x performance improvement.
"Now you can set up a scale-out file server with JBOD storage and JBOD SSD, and deliver the same performance, resilience and fault-tolerance as a SAN at a fraction of the cost," Woolsey said.
R2 also supports deduplication for active virtual machines, which will enable customers to slash the costs of storage to support virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployments.
"This has been one of the blockers to VDI – when customers actually see the cost of the storage to implement it, it just doesn't make business sense," said Woolsey.
While the dedupe is processed in software, it does not significantly affect performance, he said, as "servers are never compute bound, as most of the time they are waiting around for I/O and storage."
Meanwhile, the multi-tenant gateway extends the network virtualisation features introduced in Window Server 2012 to allow service providers to better support multiple customers in their cloud infrastructure.
"Customers want to be able to bring their network to that cloud, and to do that you need a gateway. Today, there some hardware gateways, but you have to buy the right one, and so we just provide that in software under R2," Woolsey said.
System Center is the control plane to create and manage network virtualisation and the data plane lives in Windows Server, he explained. The R2 release also extends Microsoft's PowerShell automation framework, turning it into a "fundamental building block for operating the cloud", according to Woolsey.
"If you are an IT pro, you have to have PowerShell on your resume today. You have to," he said.
Windows Server 2012 R2 will be available as a preview release later this month and set to ship commercially later this year.
23 May 2013
Following the failure of HP's homegrown webOS operating system back in 2011, many people questioned whether the PC heavyweight would ever make another mobile device. A couple of years on, HP has returned to the fray, releasing a legion of tablet devices. One of the most interesting of these is the HP SlateBook X2 convertible.
Design and build
The SlateBook follows the same design philosophy as Asus' transformer series of devices, bundling the 10in Android tablet with an attachable keyboard dock that turns it into a netbook replacement. The tablet section of the device is made of polycarbonate and features a fairly unassuming, slightly rounded unibody chassis, with power and volume buttons lining the top of its right and left-hand sides. In fact the only noticeable design features on our grey demo unit were its 1080p rear-facing camera and 720p front-facing camera, which had metallic lines encircling their lenses.
Despite being made of polycarbonate, not metal like Asus' Transformer Prime and Infinity convertibles, the SlateBook did feel fairly sturdily built. Unlike many plastic tablets, the SlateBook didn't bend or move when we pressed on its back; it felt fairly solid.
We found the same was true of the SlateBook's keyboard dock. Built with plastic, the dock felt robust. The dock is a nice touch as it offers users a second battery that can be used to charge the tablet section of the device and boosts the SlateBook's connectivity, adding a USB 2.0 port, SD card slot and HDMI port. With the dock's battery, HP claims the tablet will be able to last around 16 hours off one charge, which, if true, will make it a great travel workstation for business users on the move. However one consequence of the dock's second battery is that when put together the SlateBook is fairly bulky and heavy compared to other Android convertibles, measuring in at 212×285×20mm and weighing a hefty 1.4kg.
The SlateBook boasts a 10.1in IPS 1920x1200 display. The display was a little disappointing, with it looking significantly more grainy and washed out compared with other 10in tablets, like the Google Nexus 10 and Sony Xperia Tablet Z. That said it was more than usable during our tests and it did prove to boast decent viewing angles. We'll be interested to see how the SlateBook's screen deals with more difficult outdoor lighting conditions in our full review.
Operating system and software
Unlike its little brother the Slate 7, the SlateBook runs on the latest 4.2.2 Jelly Bean version of Google Android. This is a boon as most other tablets at the moment are still running on the older 4.1.2 version of Android and means the SlateBook features multiple user account support – a key feature missing on the previous version. Additionally we noticed HP has added a few useful productivity apps to the mix. Chief among these are a custom-built file manager and ePrinter app that lets the tablet automatically sync with HP printers without the need to install drivers. Sadly we didn't get time to really test the apps out in this hands-on review, but if they work this could be a key selling point for business users.
The SlateBook runs using Nvidia's brand-spanking new Tegra 4 processor, packing a 1.8GHz quad-core chip that's backed up by the now standard 2GB RAM. The chip was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year and is meant to be a game changer in the industry, with Nvidia claiming devices powered by it will be twice as fast as other top-end tablets, like the Apple iPad and Google Nexus 10. Running through a few basic tasks like opening webpages and streaming video, the Slatebook was a nippy device; look out for some more thorough speed tests in our full review.
Chances in the market
Set to cost around £400, we're cautiously optimistic regarding the HP SlateBook X2's chances. While the tablet probably won't set the consumer market on fire, it could well capture a significant chunk of the enterprise and bring-your-own-device markets, winning users over with its slew of productivity apps and sturdy design. Check back with V3 later this year for a full review of the HP SlateBook X2.
20 May 2013
ORLANDO: BlackBerry is getting strong support from some developers and customers who have praised the ease with which applications can be built for the firm's BlackBerry 10 platform.
One such customer is online banking firm ING Direct Canada, which has had an online presence for many years and claims to be the only such company with banking apps across every major mobile platform.
This includes Apple's iPhone and iPad, Android phones and tablets, Windows Phone 7 and 8, plus BlackBerry's PlayBook and older smartphones.
ING senior manager for IT Development Vinay Venugopal told V3 at the BlackBerry Live event in Orlando: "Our philosophy is to offer customers a choice. We saw that customers and clients would be using BlackBerry 10 devices, so we had to develop an app for the platform."
Using BlackBerry's software development kit (SDK) tools, ING was able to build a mobile app for BlackBerry 10 devices within just six weeks from conception to completion, according to Venugopal.
"We started in December last year and were able to have it ready in time for the BlackBerry 10 launch," he said.
ING uses a hybrid implementation for its mobile apps, mixing native code with web-based development. On the BlackBerry, this means that the native Cascades APIs are used for user interface navigation and device-specific features such as integration with the BlackBerry Hub and GPS support for the ATM Locator service.
Meanwhile, the core functionality of the apps is coded in HTML5, making it common across all platforms, according to Venugopal, but with a separate style sheet for each platform.
The improvements that BlackBerry has made with BlackBerry 10 make it much speedier and simpler to build apps than with the Java-based development model for older BlackBerry platforms, he said.